The road to recovery
Once Depression is recognised and diagnosed, there is much that can be done to treat it, so we can start to get on with our lives again.
Understanding treatment means we’re in a better position to make sure we get the best treatment we can. The ﬁrst major step is making an appointment to see a doctor.
Why do I need to see a doctor?
While it affects how we feel, Depression is a medical condition. As with other medical conditions, a doctor can make a diagnosis, prescribe treatment, monitor progress and refer to a specialist if necessary.
Help your doctor to help you
Help your doctor to help you by giving as much information as possible. We all know what it’s like to leave a doctor’s surgery and remember something we forgot to say. Make sure this doesn’t happen by writing down a list of key facts beforehand and taking it with you, for example:
- The exact symptoms concerning you.
- How long you have been experiencing the symptoms.
- Any events associated with the Depression.
- If your sleep or work are being affected.
- Any physical symptoms, or other illnesses for which you are being treated.
It is also useful to ask for a longer appointment, giving you both time to talk without pressure.
If you ﬁnd your doctor is not very helpful, try to discuss this with them, and go to another doctor if necessary.
How do psychological treatments help?
For people with mild to moderate Depression, psychological therapy is often the most effective treatment, either alone or in combination with antidepressant medication. These therapies include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), among others.
For further information, see the ‘Psychological treatments’ section in the Medication and other Treatments guide.
Do I really need to take medication?
For most people, the most effective treatment for Depression is psychological therapy. However, antidepressant medication can also be helpful, either short-term, or sometimes on an ongoing basis.
How medication works
Medical research suggests that Depression seems to be often associated with a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Just as people with diabetes may need to take insulin, so people with Depression may need to take medication to restore the chemical balance in the brain and so reduce symptoms.
Antidepressants are effective for most people, although a few medications may need to be tried by the doctor to ﬁnd the one which is most helpful.
Tell the doctor if you are taking other medications, and take the tablets exactly when the prescription describes. If you have any questions, ask the doctor or pharmacist.
See the Guide to Medication and other Treatments for more information about antidepressant medications.
Misconceptions about antidepressant medication
There are a number of misconceptions about antidepressant medication, which can unfortunately discourage some people from getting help in this way.
For example, some believe that antidepressants are addictive, that they are dangerous, or that they put you into an unreal ‘dreamy’ state.
The fact is that medications in the new generation of antidepressants are not addictive, are generally safer in overdose than older antidepressants, and are certainly not the ‘happy drugs’ often portrayed in the media – they simply help restore your mood back to normal.
How long does it take for antidepressants to take effect?
It usually takes a few weeks for antidepressant medication to have a beneﬁcial effect, and this effect should increase over the following weeks.
You may experience some side-effects, such as a dry mouth or stomach upset – these are normal and show the medication is starting to have an effect.
Side-effects generally fade away with time. If they don’t, or are causing you concern, always tell the doctor so that action can be taken to deal with them.
What about herbal products?
Some people ﬁnd herbal products, such as St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), helpful for Depression. If you wish to take such products, remember that they have side-effects of their own and can interact dangerously with prescribed medications. Always consult with your doctor before taking them.
How does ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) help?
ECT can be a highly effective treatment for moderate to severe Depression where: other treatments have not helped, if the person has responded well to ECT in the past, or because they are at risk and a rapid response is required.
ECT (sometimes called ‘shock treatment’) is used more sensitively and effectively than in the past. It should be given only after the treatment has been fully explained to the person involved, and any questions have been satisfactorily answered.
ECT is generally given only with the person’s consent. If someone is extremely ill and their psychiatrist believes they are unable to give informed consent, then the psychiatrist can consent for them, with certain conditions.
What does ECT involve?
This form of treatment involves giving a general anaesthetic and muscle-relaxant, after which an electrical current is passed through the brain.
Any side-effects, such as headache or mild loss of memory, are usually temporary and pass after a while.
What other support is there?
There are other support services which offer help for people with Depression.
Community mental health services
Some people with Depression ﬁnd it helpful to meet with others who have the same diagnosis, and had similar experiences – at support groups in their local area or online.
As well as overcoming isolation, this can be a useful way of sharing information about things that help, and getting together to advocate for improved services.
Other support services
In addition to community mental health services, there is a range of other support services which can help those who have been severely affected by mental illnesses, including Depression. This includes support with accommodation, psychosocial rehabilitation, recreation and employment, as well as support for family and other carers too.
Some States and Territories offer more of this type of support than others. Metropolitan areas also tend to have more services available than rural areas.
Enquire at the mental health service or council ofﬁce about programs offered locally, and ask others what services they would recommend.